Despite heightened tensions on the border, India on Monday conveyed to Pakistan its readiness to sign the agreement on Kartarpur Saheb Corridor on 23 October even as it renewed its appeal to Islamabad not to insist on levying a service fee of $20 on every pilgrim visiting the gurdwara.
In a statement, the External Affairs Ministry said: ”It is a matter of disappointment that while understanding has been reached (between India and Pakistan) on most of the elements for facilitating the visit of pilgrims from India, Pakistan continues to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit. The government has consistently urged Pakistan that in deference to the wishes of the pilgrims, it should not levy such a fee.”
New Delhi said it has agreed to sign the agreement in view of the long-pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa-free access to Gurdwara Kartarpur Saheb and in the interest of operationalisation of the corridor in time before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak falling on 12 November.
‘”While agreeing to sign the agreement, the Government of Pakistan has been once again urged to reconsider its insistence to levy service fee on pilgrims. India would be ready to amend the agreement accordingly at any time,” the statement added.
It said India had taken the initiative to put in place a state-of-the-art infrastructure to open the corridor on the auspicious occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak Dev so that pilgrims from India and those holding Overseas Citizen of India card could undertake a visit to the holy Kartarpur Saheb Gurdwara in Pakistan.
New Delhi’s statement came a day after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the much-awaited corridor would be opened on 9 November. “Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9 November,” he said in a Facebook post.
Meanwhile, Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal slammed Pakistan for proposing to charge the service fee from pilgrims visiting the gurdwara, calling the act “atrocious”. In a video shared on her social media handle, she said it was highly shameful for the Pakistan Prime Minister to think that the proposed fee would boost Pakistan’s economy and wondered how a poor pilgrim would pay the amount.